Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 26, 2012

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and My Soul Cry

There are certain historical portraits that touch me deep down in my soul. This is one: 

From a distance you cannot really see what is going on, but then, peering closer, various atrocities become evident. This painting was done by Francois Dubois and depicts the horrendous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, particularly the first bloodshed in Paris in August 1572. The quaint Parisian buildings in the background seem oddly out-of-place. They belong in a civilized world where ordinary, modern things occur . . . 

As a Protestant with a long bloodline of likeminded individuals, I find myself wrapping my heart and spirit up in the story of these slaughtered Huguenots. Then I look at the painting and feel an emotion very different from grief: I also feel injustice, betrayal, and outrage. If I could stand at that spot --- which, granted, would look nothing as it did then --- I would be tempted to cry out to the Seine, to the grand old Parisian skyline, to the churches and houses, “What right did you have?” 

That is a good question to ask about the St. Bartholomew’s massacre. “Who gave you the right to treat Protestant men, women, and children as if they had no right to live? What right did you have to treat your neighbors --- your countrymen --- with utter indifference and contempt simply because they did not worship alongside you but rather followed their own consciences in matters of faith? What made you so powerful that you might turn a midnight-quiet city into a charnel house?”

And if the old buildings still remained, what would they say? Would they condemn or condone? Life went on as usual, did it not? In the buildings depicted in this painting, chores were undertaken and church attended. Parisians looked on distantly as Protestants were pulled out of their houses and killed. They were blind to the painful injustice and intolerance. People walked by and did nothing to help. They ignored the cries and the death-throes. They failed to recognize the betrayal that burned in victims’ eyes just before they were so cruelly silenced. 

That is what bothers me the most. The complicity of 16th century man. How could such things happen in such a city? How could such a scene --- a conglomeration of church, gatehouse, and townhouse --- be filled with bloodshed and evil? At least to me, the only recognizable building in Dubois’ painting is the church on the far left. I believe it is the Sainte Chapelle, though I might be wrong --- I am only an armchair traveler. That church, whichever one it is, witnessed such suffering and did nothing.

There are many different theories about St. Bartholomew’s. Some vilify the perpetrators; others almost seem to absolve them. Regardless of what religious and political machinations there might have been --- or if the number was greater or smaller than historians say --- there is no doubt that it happened, it was brutal, and it was senseless. We all understand the “mob mentality,” the quintessential disgruntled townsfolk with torches and pitchforks. That element was out at large during the summer and fall of 1572.

As I have a firm grounding in the martyrdom and sacrifices of my spiritual ancestors, I feel responsible for and identifiable with those Huguenots so brutally slaughtered during the St. Bartholomew’s. I hate to hear justification, such as “it was the way things were at that time,” or “both sides were responsible for atrocities.” I know that. I understand that. Nothing could make it right, however, and nothing could make it any less objectionable. Why are there no monuments or memorials in the megalith that is Paris, or in any of the other cities where the massacre occurred? If we remember and mourn the Holocaust with a variety of memorials (which we should always continue to do) why not the St. Bartholomew’s, which took thousands of lives? What is the different? Was it “too long ago”? Should that matter?

If I could, I would stand in the Parisian square depicted in that portrait by Francois Dubois --- if the place does indeed still exist in any shape or form --- and ponder that if I and my extended family had been living in Paris (or in much of France) at that time, we would have been condemned as well. Even if we had never done a thing to our neighbors, which most of the victims likely did not, we still would have been stripped of our right to life and hunted down simply for our faith. Suddenly the past takes on a personal feel. So I must ask again: What gave them the right?

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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